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How to Survive a Nuclear Attack or Disaster [Complete Guide]

This article aims to answer the main question one might have around the topic: how to survive a nuclear attack or nuclear disaster? Can you come out alive?

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We live in crazy times. Things like natural disasters, calamities, riots and pandemics are no longer part of the “this can’t happen to me” scenarios.

There have been many speculations about a third world war knocking on our doors. But many think that if this comes, it wouldn’t take the form we learned about during history classes in high school.

War zone tactics would be replaced with digital attacks, soldiers would be more like diplomats and weapons would no longer have bullets, but nuclear technology instead.

The question to ask now is how to survive a nuclear attack. Now, we can pray this never happens and keep our fingers crossed that nations will never come to this. Or we can take precautions and prepare as best we can to face the worst.

We can’t ignore the possibility of such a scenario happening in some near or far future and we can improve our nuclear war survival skills. We know guns, trenches, tanks and armors.

But do we know how to survive a nuclear attack? We already have precedents: Hiroshima and Nagasaki if we talk about attacks and more than 90 nuclear plants accidents all over the world.

According to The Guardian, there have been 15 nuclear accidents across the globe before Chernobyl. It is true that Chernobyl was the worst of them all, but the 15 previous accidents proved to still find people and authorities unprepared for the amplitude of the damages.

This article aims to answer the main question one might have around the topic: how to survive a nuclear bomb or nuclear disaster? Can you come out of them alive?

The answer is that the chances you do are high if you prep well for this emergency. If we talk about nuclear wars, we are dealing with a bit of an unknown territory, since we only have two references in history for what that might mean. But we do have enough science, experience and information to help us prepare.

Let’s take a moment to understand first what nuclear disasters mean and how you would be affected in case any happens.

Nuclear survival must-knows

When first discovered about a century ago, nuclear technology was revolutionary for how the world worked. This efficient way of creating massive amounts of energy translated into many aspects of a well-functioning society.

The energy is created by the process of different radioactive elements separating themselves into more stable atoms. The nuclear produced radiation can travel with incredible speed.

Depending on the type of radiation released, nuclear energy has the power to alter the cells and tissues in our bodies, peeling of electrons from atoms, further leading to disruptions in normal chemical processes in our organisms.

So far, there are only two known ways in which nuclear threats occur:

  • Nuclear power plants malfunctions

There are several ways in which a nuclear power plant can malfunction. The most common and known is called “a nuclear meltdown”, caused by overheating at the core of nuclear reactors. Other faults are electrical, equipment failures or human errors.

The closer you are to ground zero of the explosion, the higher the risk for immediate damage caused by radiation or blast. The further from this you are, the more the risk correlates with radiation only, which has proved to cause different types of cancer or disease.  

  • Nuclear bombs detonation, either for testing purposes or used in war, more specifically, World War II
Nuclear missiles ready to be launched

Current state of nuclear “affairs”

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in January 2020 there were nine states owning approximately 13,400 nuclear weapons across the globe. Scary, isn’t it?

We cannot help not noticing the tensions between different parts of the world. We also cannot help considering that one day, one of these nine states will put their nuke tests into action.

If this happens, on top of the physical repercussions related to radiation, closeness to the explosion point and eventually nuclear fallout, there is a stronger emotional factor to consider.

Regardless of how scary the scenarios might seem, the answer to the question of whether you can increase your chances of surviving a nuclear strike is “yes”.

To start with, let’s see the known effects and threats of nuclear bombs and disasters.


Short term effects of nuclear blasts

  1. Burning – nuclear bombs / explosions produce burns if you are located near the explosion site
  2. Being caught under fallen buildings, if you are near the hypocenter of the nuclear shockwave
  3. Being hit by explosion debris in the proximity of the hazard
  4. Disruption to the social structure and norm of the society close to a blast, caused by massive destruction, fires and eventual restrictions imposed by authorities. There are very small chances you would be able to leave your house immediately, even if you don’t live in the immediate area of a nuclear explosion site.

Medium and long-term effects of nuclear blasts

  1. Immediate health problems, called radiation sickness, which can be lethal if close to ground zero or in case of exposure to high levels of radioactive particles immediately.
  2. Cardiovascular issues or cancer caused by the nuclear fallout. Nuclear fallout is the literal pouring of leftover radioactive dust blasted into the atmosphere after a nuclear explosion. The biggest amount of the radioactive pieces falls to the ground immediately after the explosion, close to the hypocenter. However, many of the smaller ones go into the upper atmosphere layer, being carried around and dropped across far distances and large areas of the globe. On top of that, radioactive fallout can occur years after a nuclear blast.
  3. The theory of a “nuclear winter”, a phenomenon that has been extensively researched across the globe. The massive fires caused by many detonations in a short period have been proven to release various amounts of impure carbon particles into the stratosphere, causing a lack of direct sunlight and drops of temperature for prolonged periods.

 Not to get you scared, but such a scenario has been envisioned as a possible apocalypse that wouldn’t have anything to do with God or other unearthly beings. A nuclear winter is supposed to severely damage crops and ultimately lead to famine.

Time to work on your nuclear war survival skills

In case a nuclear attack or disaster happens, there are short, mid and long-term consequences.

The best way to increase your chances to improve your survival skills for these situations is think on best courses for each of these phases when a nuclear disaster can still affect you and your dear ones.

We thought of a step-by-step preparation and action plan that should increase your nuclear survival chances in all phases.

Prepping for surviving a nuclear disaster

Stay informed on possible nuclear attacks

The chances are no country that has nuclear power will send a notification to the country they plan to attack, stating that they will aim nuclear bombs towards their territory.

Being informed about the certitude of an emerging nuclear attack is almost impossible. This also stands for nuclear reactors explosions.

There is no way to know beforehand that a nuclear blast will take place in your area and that you can start then and there to prepare for such an event.

Therefore, awareness of the event’s imminence is key to your survival chances.  The good news is that you might foresee the possibility of a nuclear attack, by simply being aware of:

  1. The countries that have nuclear weapons and technology, either in development, test or already functional. The Arms Control Association publishes regular statistics of states owning nuke weapons. The list is usually published once a year, so this is a good place to start. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institution also publishes yearbooks with similar statistics, including the number of existing weapons at the times of the reports.
  2. The world-wide politics and specifically, tensions reported between states. There have been rumors about a World War III for some time now. The answers you should find are to the following questions:
  • Is any of the countries involved in a news related conflict owning nuclear power?
  • Are these tensions amplifying with each day that passes?
  • Do they declare openly the aversion towards each other?

These are points to take into consideration if you want to have at least a hint about the possibility of a nuclear attack and whether you are in the near or far area of it. We cannot stress enough the fact that you can never know for sure if a nuclear attack is about to happen.

Following reliable information sources can give you hints or inform you literally that a nuclear attack or disaster happened, and this is the furthest you can get in foreseeing them.

Here are our recommendations of reliable sources of information for the topic:

Being aware of the political context and nuclear weapons statistics gives you an important step forward and start implementing the action plan early on, thus increasing your chances to come out of this safe and with minimized damage.

Sunlight coming in through an undeground bunker door opening

Are there nuclear shelters near me?

Once informed about the imminence of a nuclear disaster, the next question to ask is: are there nuclear shelters near me?

One of the best ways to protect yourself from a nuclear blast is by staying inside before, during and after it happens. The “inside” term is wide: you can choose to rely on your home, or you can go pro and find shelter in a bunker or nuclear shelter.

Considering the short, medium- and long-term effects of nuclear explosions we listed, there are two types of shelters you need to have in mind when prepping for a nuclear event:

  1. Blast or bomb shelters

These are meant to protect against the shock waves and the overpressure that follow a nuclear bomb explosion. They can be on or under the ground, and a solid nuclear one is equipped with?

  • Reinforced structure, that is not damaged by overpressure or underpressure
  • Antiphonic structure, to prevent auditive damage from explosions
  • Radiation protection
  • Tactical exits and good ventilation
  1. Fallout shelters

Their main purpose is to protect the inhabitants of the post-nuclear fallout, in short, from alpha, beta and gamma radiation that follows a nuclear explosion.

The fallout from a nuclear bomb differs from that of a reactor explosion. Fallout shelters are meant to protect you in any of the two emergencies.

These reinforced structures offer protection against nuclear fallout by being “coated” with radiation shields. This is achieved by sticking together multiple layers of the same construction material.

To exemplify, a 10 concrete layers wall can be considered 10 times of a better protection against nuclear radiation than your regular once concrete layer house walls.

If you opt for a public fallout shelter, expect this to come in many forms. From underground tunnels or tall buildings’ basements to middle floors of the same tall building that have thick structures.

The main difference between the two type of protective nuclear buildings is the purpose for which they are built: while fallout shelters focus mostly on protection from the radiation during and after a nuclear explosions, blast or bomb shelter offer protection for any bomb type explosion. 

Stay informed about the nearest shelter in your area, text SHELTER followed by your ZIP code to 43362. Identify ways to find the nearest shelter by regularly checking the United States Department of Homeland Security’s project

Building your own nuclear bunker

You might also consider building your own bunker somewhere close to your home, be it in the basement or underground, in your yard. You might already have one for less apocalyptic disasters, such as tornadoes, earthquakes or wildfires.

However, such a bunker doesn’t offer enough protection for nuclear blasts. They are a good option, especially if there are no public nuclear shelters around your area.

Nuclear shelters and bunkers should have some top-ups to in order to properly safe-guard you from the effects of such an event. Reinforced walls, steel doors or air filtration systems are the obvious features, but there are more finesse details that can be easily omitted.

If you are not a nuclear bunker or shelter engineer yourself, we highly recommend working with specialized companies for this project.

You can find guidance and nuclear shelter building companies recommendations in our article on home survival shelters.

Stockpile food and water supplies for the post-disaster lockdown

We recommend to stock food and water supplies in your house for any type of emergency that might hit your area. And with nuclear disasters being so hard to predict, this can be a life or death matter. After nuclear disasters, it is recommended to stay inside.

Depending on the gravity of the event, it can be days or even weeks. Since crops, tap water and unpackaged foods are likely to be contaminated by radiation after a nuclear blast, consider having canned foods and bottled water and drinks ready for at least a few days.

Public shelters are most likely to be equipped with enough supplies for all people who would opt for them when needed. But if you find yourself unable to reach a public shelter, your house should have the right types of foods and water supplies to sustain you and your dear ones for various stretches of time.

For ideas on how to efficiently equip your shelves with proper supplies, check out our article on Best Survival Food.

Must-haves in case of a nuclear war or nuclear blast: bug out bags and first aid kits

Bug out shelters, bug out bags and emergency kits are part of any survivalist’s list of must haves for several types of emergencies.

On the go nuclear survival gear

Nuclear wars and explosions are not an exception. We recommend having a bug out bag available in your vehicle and workplace, in case a nuclear blast catches you outside your home.

Since the single and most important recommendation in case of a nuclear emergency is to stay inside, you don’t need a nuclear dedicate Bug Out Bag at home. We do recommend having one for any other type of disaster. 

Nuclear survival Bug Out Bag items

Consider starting with the basic items for any type of emergency, such as:

  • Bottled Water
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Battery powered radio
  • Bug out bag prepackaged food
  • Emergency kit
  • First aid kit

Other items can be identified in our article on Bug Out Bags Checklist.

A nuclear survival kit and bugout bag should have the following specific items in it, on top of the basic and obvious ones:

  • Protective dust mask to repel radioactive particles from your airways. You can also opt for a nuclear gas mask, to protect you from nuclear gas and radiation
  • Wet tissues or a cloth and extra bottled water to moist it, as an emergency option in case you cannot immediately shower after radiation exposure
  • Seal-able plastic bags in different sizes to discard items that were exposed to radiation
  • Duct tape, to seal the air entry-ways of your available shelter, if not specifically built for nuclear protection
  • Full set of clothes that would cover the entire body, such as a shirt with long sleeves, long trousers, socks and shoes
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Potassium iodide, a form of medication that can repel radioactive iodine from your tissues
A fully loaded survival backpack

At home nuclear survival gear

If you are inside your house during a nuclear detonation or reactor explosion, you are in the best-case scenario. You can prepare your house or at-home bunker and go through the nuclear emergency smoother than expected.

Here is what you should have available in the house and in the bunker:

  • A first aid cabinet containing also potassium iodide for help against radioactive iodide affecting your body
  • Home Emergency kit
  • A whistle, to callout for help if needed
  • Face masks
  • Duct tape and to seal rooms
  • Plastic bags in different sizes
  • Moist tissues or cloths
  • Battery powered radio and spare batteries

Some of the bugout items and home items are the same, but we wanted to emphasize the need to have these items available on the road, inside your home or office if a nuclear blast happens.

What to do during and after a nuclear explosion

What to do when you are on the road

United States Environmental Protection Agency’s document for Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies advises to take the following steps in case you are outside any building when a nuclear blast happens: 

  • In case you are on the road or there is no near shelter around your area, stay on the ground, face down, covering your nose and mouth to avoid inhaling radioactive particles
  • If you are in a vehicle, close the windows and ventilation if possible and cover your nose and mouth with a cloth
  • As soon as you can, find a building and stay inside, away from the windows and preferably with a live source of information around
  • If possible, remove your surface layer of clothes and seal them well in a plastic bag. Deposit that bag as far away from people and animals as possible
  • Blow your nose to eliminate eventual radioactive particles from your air-ways
  • Wipe your skin with a wet towels or tissues or shower all your body entirely, including your hair and eye-lids; avoid using hair conditioner or skin moisturizers
  • A basement would provide even better shelter for nuclear disasters for a short while but could also be a good long-term solution if it is well ventilated.

Sheltered during a nuclear disaster

If you are in your own shelter or home:

  • Listen to the guidance and updates from your local and national authorities to make sure you minimize the risks of exposure to the blast and radiation.
  • Turn off the air conditioning system and close the windows, to avoid radiation particles intrusion in the space
  • Keep away from windows and entries
  • If possible, seal the air entry-ways of your shelter with duct tape to avoid radioactive particles intrusion into your enclosed space
  • If you have supplies, make sure you portion them to have enough for the entire inside-time recommended by the authorities. If not, listen to your available source of information for ways in which you could get them delivered by authorities
  • Stay tuned on the guidance and precautions recommended by your local and national authorities

Frequently asked nuclear survival questions and their answers   

Can you survive a nuclear bomb in a fridge?

If you watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Chrystal Skull, you might have googled this question at least once. The controversial theory in the movie is that Dr. Jones survives a nuclear explosion in the confinement of a lead-lined refrigerator.

George Lucas, one of the three scenarists of the movies was a strong believer in the possibility that doing just like Indy would considerably increase your chances of surviving a nuclear blast.

This theory was not proved with actual simulations. But checking all the trustworthy resources, as the ones mentioned in the Stay informed section of this article, there is no recommendation to hide in a lead-lined fridge during a nuclear explosion.

There are many variables that make chances of survival a nuclear blast in a fridge hard to prove. Depending on the proximity to the blast and the bomb size, you can end up blown into the air or covered in deadly melted lead inside a cold, small fridge.

An interesting brainstorming article of David Shechner, Ph.D molecular biologist, explores all the ways in which you would not survive a nuclear blast in a lead-lined fridge.

The bottom line is that following the guidance of official dedicated sources is a better way to improve your chances of survival than the plot of a fictional movie is.

Here's the infamous fridge clip from Indiana Jones.

How far do you have to be from a nuclear explosion to survive?

The answer depends on a few factors: how far from the hypocenter you are at, the size of the bomb and where you are confined.

During the Hiroshima nuclear explosion, there have been reports of survivors near the hypocenter. The key element was the building they were in at the time of the explosion. Strong buildings, basements or bunkers can shelter you from the blast, even if you are close to ground zero.

The size of the bomb can influence how much these strong shelters are affected by the blast. The conclusion is that if you are not in the hypocenter and you take the precautions recommended by authorities in the area, your chances of survival are rather good.

How likely is nuclear war?

Going back to the numbers, although there are worldwide efforts to reduce the likeliness of a nuclear war, there are countries that build and own nuclear weapons.

There have been a few times in the past years when we all thought “that’s it, this is World War III”. The 9 state in possession of roughly 13,400 nuclear weapons cannot ease our minds in terms of how a third world war would happen.

The best way to be on top of this eventuality is to prepare and stay informed on the world politics.

Action items to survive a nuclear attack or nuclear disaster

Here is the short version of the steps you should take in case there is a nuclear threat:

  1. Tune-in on:
    • The state of the world, the existing tensions and conflicts and try to anticipate the eventuality of new ones between the countries
    • The official, reliable and dedicated sources of information around nuclear disasters and how to shelter yourself in case they happen
    • The closest public nuclear shelters near you
  2. Prepare your shelter or home with supplies to make sure you have enough to survive for the situation of being forced to stay inside for at least a few days.
  3. Prepare bug out bags and emergency kits for the places you spend most of your time at: your vehicle, your office, your house etc. Make sure you include self-cleaning tools, plastic bags in various sizes, potassium iodide and first-aid kits
  4. If a nuclear explosion happens:
    • If you are in a vehicle or on the road, go face-down on the ground and cover your years and nose. As soon as you can, find a shelter, preferably a sturdy building, a bunker or public shelter. Make sure you dispose the objects and clothes exposed to radiation. If possible, wash yourself thoroughly. Blow your nose several times to eliminate radioactive particles from your airways
    • If you are at home or in your office, stay there or move to a dedicated bunker, if you have one. Stay away from the windows, seal the room and turn off the ventilation systems. Turn on reliable sources of information, preferably a battery powered radio in case there is no electricity
    • If your home is not properly equipped for a nuclear disaster survival scenario, find the closest public shelter and go there as soon as you can. Follow the authorities’ instructions for conditions in which you can access these shelters, such as when you are safe to go outside, what precautions you should take while outside etc.
  5. Once safe, continue to follow the authorities’ guidance until safe to go back to normal life. Use your supplies wisely and take care of yourself and your dear ones

How to Survive a Nuclear Attack Conclusions

Nuclear wars and disasters are hard to predict. The damage they can do is tremendous on all layers of society, starting with the individual and ending with the balance of the entire Globe.

The eventuality of nuclear disasters is scary, but there are ways in which you and your dear ones can prepare to maximize your chances to get yourselves safe and sound out of them.

After all, no survivalist has survived by simply hoping for the best, but by prepping for the worst and getting the best out of it.

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Hi, I'm Russ!

I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

This website started as a way to keep me going forward on the path to being better prepared.

Now, I’m turning it into a complete blueprint for anyone else looking to do the same!
Russell M. Morgan
Telson Survival

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